With fur making a resurgence on the runways, SOPHIE MILNER investigates how it’s clawed it’s way back into popularity for D’SCENE Magazine’s launch edition – our #TBT of the week. (Illustration by George Morton)
It was delicate and feathery at Alexander McQueen. It burned hot red at Prada. It was shaped like Karl Lagerfeld at Fendi. With silky skins dominating designer’s collections now more than ever in the past two decades, the message is clear: the fashion industry has fallen back in love with fur.
Who can forget the highly publicised battles in the late ’80s and early ’90s over animal welfare? Campaigns illustrating violent images of fur production resulted in the luxe textile being outlawed from the fashion industry. Public pressure to avoid fur was high due to the omnipresent sense of anxiety: nobody wanted red paint dashed all over their powdery white mink capelet. But with Saga, the most prolific fur traders in the world, reporting 71% of the Autumn Winter 14/15 collections using fur, the industry is more alive now than ever.
With the turn of the millennium the issue of fur appeared to have been settled. It appeared obsolete and outdated, a relic of the past that belonged on the back of elderly dowagers. Every week another celebrity would strip off their clothing for a PETA campaign claiming that they “would rather go naked than wear fur”. Something so highly politicised was distasteful and irrelevant. So how exactly has fur managed to claw its way back into popularity and crawl onto the backs of fashions most notable figures?
Fur production certainly has not become less violent and bloody. A silent struggle has boiled beneath the silken surface of the fashion industry to rebrand fur. Fur traders only had two targets to attack and convert: the public and the designers.
Fur industry organisations aimed to align themselves with anti-fur campaigners by promoting fur as a responsible and natural choice. For years they have worked to de-stigmatise real fur production and reposition it as a ‘green’ alternative to man-made faux fibres. What was once seen as cruel, barbaric and inhumane is now sustainable. Whilst the life of a natural fur coat is around twenty to thirty years, the life of a synthetic imitation is unknown. After all, synthetic imitations are difficult to dispose of and environmentally harmful to produce.
Most notorious to the debate is the issue of ethics. Gone are the images of animals crammed in tight cages, pacing around and biting themselves. Fur farms are being labeled as ‘origins assured’: a stamp of quality and ethics that ensures the fur has come from a country where government approved animal welfare regulations have been enforced on fur farms. With We Are Fur insisting that millions of dollars are pumped into animal welfare, they seek to erase all images of pacing animals crammed in cages. Luxury brand consultant, Andrew Marshall, notes how fur farming is now very tightly regulated and controlled, and believes this is because in this highly informed digital era where “customers not only have access to information, but also have a much higher desire to know their products and how it was created”. By giving a certain level of transparency to fur production creates a certain level of trust.
With the ethics of producing new fur designs still in question, vintage and second hand furs seem to escape under the radar. Super stylist Margherita Gardella loves to wear vintage, especially her ’70s leopard bolero. “It was bought in London many years ago in a second hand shop” she says. “I always feel eccentric and cool when I wear it!” Margherita added. The concept of owning vintage fur is an ethical grey area: surely recycling an old fur garment means that no new animal must die to satisfy the desire to look glamorous?
Indulging in a dose of vintage glamour is not always practical. Gardella recalls how her mother, legendary fashion journalist Mariella Gardella, owns a floor length vintage fur coat that it is so heavy you can’t even take it out of the cupboard, let alone wear it comfortably.
There is a hunger for new, practical and modern furs; the design landscape has been left wide open for innovative, modern methods of interpreting and exploring skins. New techniques plucking, shearing, knitting and weaving means that furs are more adaptable than ever before. Instead of heavy and impractical, they are light and flexible. “Fur is being used more for functional purposes and in design enhancing trims more than used in entire fur garments ”, said Andrew Marshall. Its versatility has led to diversity and endless opportunities to use the textile.
Alexander McQueen’s fur extravaganza collection for Autumn Winter 14/15 featured organza dresses dotted with feathery tufts of mink. Fendi dresses had fox fur sprouting from seams like grass. Hemlines at Pucci were crafted in blistering orange furs and red tribal patterns to make an artisanal statement at. The freedom to explore new textures and designs gives the designers the opportunity to reach creative new heights and push the boundaries of fashion.
It is no coincidence that the presence of fur has been increasing on the catwalk: the fur industry has been patiently working at re-legitimizing and de-stigmatising its goods in the eyes of impressionable new designers. It is no secret of the fashion industry that fur traders seduce young designers. Fur traders are known for sponsoring new talent by inviting upcoming designers to their factories, enticing them with experiments, new techniques and technologies, and gifting them free pelts to use in their designs. In return, their furs are splashed across global news pages during fashion weeks.
Collections reflect the given time: socially, economically and politically. Under the eye of the economic downturn, the public had to become more frugal and designers had to accept this. New styles were designed unapologetically without affection but embodied understanding of perfect cuts, comfort, and simplicity. Thrift shopping and the love affair with vintage was reignited and popularised.
Fur has always symbolised luxury. “Real fur can give genuine luxury status because the fabric is not available to everyone,” said Andrew Marshall. This gives a feel of exclusivity; it plays on our fantasies of extravagance and provides escapism from the banal reality of life. Fur trade organizations have found themselves embedded within a fashion landscape overpopulated with jaded and disillusioned consumers trapped in a tomb of grey jersey: everyone is desperate for a dose of glamour. Designers are tapping in on this desire for something aspirational to reignite the love affair between fashion and fur.
With every delicate fur trim, weaved mink sweater, and sleek, silky gilet, the increasing exposure to real fur is watering down the notoriety that has always surrounded it. Wearing a feathery white fox jacket is more glamorous than gutsy. Fur has become an expression of style and luxury rather than a defiance of political approval. Whether it’s the rebranding of fur as natural, ethical and sustainable, or our innate desire for luxury and exclusivity, it seems like fashions most notorious outlaw is back for good.
For Margherita Gardella, the debate is as tired and archaic as the vintage furs she loves to wear. “Let yourself be free to wear what you feel and do not think about it too much!” she says, and she has a point. Why shouldn’t we have the freedom to wear what we want? Fashion is about self-expression, after all.